A CONVERSATION WITH . . . Louis W. Stark, vice president for student affairs

photo: Susan Griffith Louis W. Stark and students

As vice president for student affairs at Case Western Reserve, Louis W. Stark works with his team to try to understand students' perspectives. What excites them? When do they feel most attached to the university? How's the food? Now in his second year, Stark‚ whose 34-year career in higher education has spanned seven universities‚ quickly drew praise from the student newspaper for connecting with students and launching a division-wide strategic plan. "Get this man a cape," The Observer declared within months of Stark's arrival, "there's a new student crusader in town."

QDo you remember your first experience in a residence hall as a student and what that was like?

A I was from New York (Long Island) and went to Davis & Elkins College in West Virginia‚ and back then, it was traditional halls; you didn't have suites. I remember what struck me was everybody being new but taking time to come out in the halls and meet each other. It was my first sense that those kinds of environments really build community, and it was a cool way to start.

QFirst dining hall experience?

A Back then it wasn't like it is today. You went through the line, you got what they had, and if you didn't like it, you were out of luck‚ you had cereal. Today, you have options built in and you can always have healthy choices. I remember that not necessarily being one of my favorite parts of college. I remember a lot of meatloaf. I've eaten (at dining halls) here, and I remember attending one of the cultural dinners and they had Peking duck. It was as good as any duck I've had in a five-star restaurant. I can't think of two complaints I had last year about food.

QYour first year was dedicated to reorganization. What are the priorities for year two?

A We want more programs that enhance our community and CWRU pride, whether that means getting more students out at programs at athletic events or helping class councils with things that they're working on.

QHow do you define "community"?

A I define community as just people getting together who really share a common goal, and the common goal being part of the CWRU community. The more ways we can develop the opportunity to get folks out, learn each other's stories, have fun together and really be part of that community spirit, I really think that's how I would define it.

QHow do you learn the culture of a new place?

A I don't think you can do it if it's not hands-on‚ getting out and meeting people in their space. I met with all the different staffs (his and others) when I first came. That's important so I understand where they're coming from. I also get out to student events.

QWere the students surprised to see you at their events?

A I actually had a lot of comments on that, yeah‚ how much they appreciated I was being accessible and I cared enough to come out. In fact, that's a gift from the Residence Hall Association (points to a white lab coat hanging on his office cabinet, covered with hand-written thank you notes in multi-colored markers) because of reaching out and really working with them. They felt heard and listened to and supported.

QAre you on Facebook or Twitter?

A No. We have a division Twitter account that I follow, but I have not gotten into it personally yet. I look at that page a few times a day. I like to see what people are saying, what's out there, if any issues jump out.

QHow are students different from when you were in school?

A I think more focused in some ways and more involved in volunteerism today.

QYou have a son who is a first-year student here. How does that shape your perspective?

A I think it will be a really good thing for me because I will be able to see things through his eyes, too, and get some information.

QWill you ask him?

A Oh, yeah, sure. I'll ask what he thinks of the experience, what his friends think of the experience. That'll be another way for me to keep my finger on the pulse of what we're doing and to make sure we're doing it really well.

QHe's cool with that?

A Sometimes.

QYou'll have access to his friends? So if they want a home-cooked meal, they'll have to give up some information, right?

A Exactly.

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